- The natural range of pohutukawa is from New Plymouth and Gisborne north.
- The trees that grow around lakes Rotoiti, Tarawera and Okataina in the central North Island are the only natural inland populations.
- The largest pohutukawa forest in the world is on Rangitoto Island.
- The oldest and largest tree in the Tauranga area is at the Pitau Rd reserve in Mount Maunganui, believed to be 400 to 500 years old.
- The variety Metrosideros excelsa Mt Maunganui are all cutting-grown descendants of this tree.
Nothing says Christmas in New Zealand like our very own Christmas tree decorated in red and green – and in 2014, thanks perhaps to our cold, extended spring, many will be at peak blooming for Christmas Day.
The pohutukawa (po-hoot-oo-car-wah) is part of the Metrosideros family that includes 12 species native to New Zealand, most of them rata (a name applied to vines, shrubs and trees). There are also Metrosideros native to the Pacific islands, including New Caledonia, Samoa, Fiji and the Kermadec Islands.
Metrosideros excelsa is the most common tree in New Zealand and is a vigorous plant with tenacious seedlings that will even grow in cracks in concrete. It’s also popular in parts of South Africa but is now regarded as an invasive species, while street plantings in San Francisco ended up causing expensive damage to pavements and pipes.
There are many forms of M. excelsa available, including Aurea (note that the date of discovery quoted in the link is more likely to be 1940, not 1840) and Moon Maiden (both with yellow-ish flowers), Gala (variegated leaves), Pink Lady (pink flowers), Octopussy (weeping habit), Maori Princess (dark red flowers, often single trunked and all descended from a single tree in New Plymouth), and Vibrance (bright red flowers, often single trunked with a spreading canopy).
Here in Tauranga, the City Council uses big trees in reserves (M. excelsa, for instance, can grow to 20m high and 20m wide) and smaller varieties on streets and verges with the slower-growing “compact” Scarlet Pimpernel preferred for under power lines.
Lighthouse is a variety from the lava flows of Rangitoto Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf and is another “compact, erect” tree to 5m, while Mistral is a natural hybrid of M. excelsa and the northern rata, Metrosideros robusta, discovered on Great Barrier Island and described as slow-growing to 4m.
Maungapiko is a cross between M. excelsa and southern rata, Metrosideros umbellata, and is described as slow-growing to 5m.
If you hanker after pohutukawa flowers but not the size of the tree, you could try the small, shrub-like Tahiti which flowers from winter into spring, or Spring Fire (based on a plant native to Hawaii) that flowers from spring into summer.
Generally, though, pohutukawa from other places tend to flower off and on throughout the year rather than putting on a massed display in summer.
Read a Sandra’s Garden story about specialist Tauranga area growers, Pohutukawas a Plenty.